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Originally posted on Lexis PSL on 31/05/2017

Is the UK failing to achieve its sustainable development goals?

Environment analysis: Colleen Theron, sustainability lawyer and consultant at CLT envirolaw, looks at the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) and offers some advice about how the UK can better embrace the objectives.

 

Original news
Government ‘has failed to embrace sustainable development goals’, LNB News 26/04/2017 68
The government has shown little interest in implementing or promoting the UN SDGs in the UK, a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has concluded. EAC has found implementing the SDGs presents significant economic opportunities, but that achieving the goals will require effort from every section of society.
What are the global goals?
The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’. It consists of 17 SDGs and is known as the global goals. In September 2015, 193 members of the UN, including the UK, adopted this
agenda and committed themselves to working ‘tirelessly for the full implementation of this agenda by 2030’.
What has led to this report being commissioned?
The report was commissioned to assess what the government is doing to implement the SDGs in the UK. It builds on work undertaken by a predecessor committee and a report that was published in 2016 by the International Development Committee (IDC). It is scrutinising the efforts of the government, particularly as the committee believes that a number of shortcomings raised by the IDC have not been met.
The report refers to the government’s approach as ‘doughnut-shaped’. What is this a
reference to?
The reference to a ‘donut-shaped’ approach is used to describe the fact that the UK government has undertaken no
substantial domestic work on the goals, but has focused on the work being undertaken abroad ‘leaving a doughnut
shaped hole in the UK’.
The report refers to economic opportunities associated with implementing the goals. What are
these and what does the report recommend is done to promote the goals and incentivise
companies to adopt them?
Evidence on the potential positive economic impact was given by a number of people representing some key businesses, like Unilever. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission estimates that implementing the SDGs will be worth $14trn by 2030. Other studies highlight that companies that have strong sustainable business practices outperform the market in the long term and have lower costs of debt and equity. There is also the sense that business can use the goals to inform their strategic directions.
What other key findings and recommendations are made in the report?
Raising awareness of the SDGs is seen as critical. In relation to business they recommend that the government
commissions research on the costs and benefits of utilising business league tables to promote responsible behaviour. The report also recommends that the government support local governments with funding and granting them power to enable them to play an active role in communicating the SDGs.

It is noteworthy, that despite extensive stakeholder engagement in developing the goals, awareness of them is low,
particularly in the private sector. While there is some evidence of bigger businesses embracing the goals, this is not true of SMEs.
What impact might Brexit have in relation to the UK’s plan for delivery of the global goals?
As the UK will have signed up to meeting the goals independently, Brexit should not detract from the requirement to fulfil the goals themselves. The report has stated that as the UK prepares to leave the EU, a re-evaluation of Britain’s social, economic and environmental purpose is underway. They state that by demonstrating a ‘deep and meaningful’
commitment to the goals would send a powerful signal about the government’s ambition for a ‘Global Britain’.
What actions does the EAC propose to take going forwards to monitor the government’s progress?
Translating data into meaningful indicators will be key. The report states that it should be a priority for the Office for
National Statistics to establish an early baseline by which to judge the government’s future performance.

Interviewed by Diana Bentley.